Preview: Vandy women take on Auburn

It may seem like déjà vu when No. 21/20 Vanderbilt (13-5, 2-3) heads to Auburn (11-7, 2-3) Thursday night. There will be a sea of color familiar to hoops in Tennessee as the Tigers host All Auburn, All Orange Night. Hitting the treacherous SEC road again Thursday after a 64-57 close call with the nation's No. 4 team in Knoxville, Vanderbilt will play a team it has beaten the last 15 tries.

Although nine years have passed since Auburn last beat the Commodores (January 16, 2001), senior guard Jessica Mooney said Vanderbilt is taking nothing for granted. Vandy is 4-4 on the road after all, and gunning for their third SEC win in six tries.

"Anytime you face a team in SEC, it's a challenge," the Nashville native said. "We have to refocus and not take anyone for granted. We learned that from Kentucky because we were on a long winning streak for them as well. We're just focused on Auburn and ready to get another SEC win. We've moved past Tennessee and put our focus on them," Jessica added.

Vanderbilt defeated Auburn twice last season, 73-70 at home and 61-54 in the SEC Tournament Championship game. Vandy leads the all time series 22-16 and is 8-7 in Alabama.

Auburn Head Coach Nell Fortner, whose Tigers lost at South Carolina 63-49 on Sunday, said Wednesday that she is aware her struggling Tigers are in for a battle. ""Vanderbilt is a very good team and they do some solid things defensively," said Fortner.

"They do a good job of taking you out of your offensive sets and they put a lot of pressure on you defensively. With us in the past, they have tried the triangle-and-two, box-and-one, try to match up in zone. So they play a lot of different defenses and they play them well. We have to execute offense well or they will make you pay for it. They don't have great size this year but, great three point shooters and they execute well on both ends of the floor."

Auburn senior center KeKe Carrier will carry her 6-8 frame into the matchup against Vandy's outsized defenders. The starter has five double-doubles this season, putting her in a tie for first in the SEC, and recorded her 500th rebound against LSU recently.

Posting responsibility falls to forwards 6-1 Hannah Tuomi and 6-0 Tiffany Clarke, both noted for playing taller than their sizes. Jessica, whose gravity-defying leaping layups soar above defenders, acknowledges that defending the center will be challenging.

"It's going to be really hard to defend anyone that tall if we get beat in the paint. We have to keep her further away from the basket. She has about eight inches on anyone on my team. We definitely have to help each other out and play team defense."

Another key player to guard is 3-point shooter Alli Smalley who is 12 points away from becoming Auburn's 25th 1,000 point club member. Because Vandy switches off on defense, any ‘Dores near Alli will pick her up to try to stop her scoring.

"She's one of the best players on the team, their second leading scorer, so it's important that we try to limit her touches and not let her start shooting threes and driving to basket," Jessica said.

Vandy can answer offensively with a number of 3-point shooters. Senior Merideth Marsh, averaging 42.4% for threes, connected on 5 of 8 against Tennessee on Sunday and is getting help from Lauren Lueders, Elan Brown and Gabby Smith, who combined contributed another five 3-pointers for 10 of 19 in the loss.

But the key to unlocking a potential victory continues to be starting quick out of the gate. "Our biggest focus has to be starting better," Jessica said. "We haven't had many game starting well and we can't let teams jump on us on their home court and give them that advantage. We have to have a better start than we've been having."

Catch the game at 8 p.m. CST Thursday on cable television channel CSS or Radio 560 AM. Vandy's next home game is 2 p.m. CST Sunday when the ‘Dores attempt to avenge a 90-76 loss to Mississippi State. Tickets will be $1 in a "Jam the Gym" promotion and fans are encouraged to bring gently used shoes as donations for Haiti survivors in partnership with Soles4Souls. Donation drops will be located throughout the concourse of Memorial Gym. Fans are asked to tie the shoes together and place them in the bins that will be manned by Vanderbilt student-athletes. Top Stories